The IASA Architecture Competition – Final Entry… For Now

Skyscraper by vonderauvisuals is  licensed under CC by 2.0 

The IASA Architecture Competition – Final Entry

… For Now

As you may (or may not) have read, I am (still) involved in the local (Seattle) chapter of Iasa first ever IT architecture competition. Team Skyscraper presented their architectural description this past Saturday, along with the four other teams and came in 2nd place. The event took place from 1:00 PM until 7:00 PM. Each team presented their architectures to a review board and answered any questions that came up. The event took place at REI headquarters (thank you REI!) and began with the first four hours being used to review and judge the teams’ work. After that, we had a social event of an hour, followed by a panel discussion with three CIOs, a VP for Gartner, and a doctor for the University of Washington. The discussion focused on big data and millennials entering the workforce. I hope the students understand the value (in time) of the event they took part in and learned the lessons we were trying to deliver.

I am extremely proud of Team Skyscraper for a number of reasons. My team came from China and had only been in Seattle (and the US) for a few weeks prior to the competition. They were (and are) full-time students working on undergrad, graduate, and PhD degrees. From the start of the competition they were engaged and invested their time to understand and put into practice the information we covered. As they presented (for the first time in English), they delivered a very strong presentation and were well-prepared for the questions the panel asked. The time and effort was obvious to me and to the panel members.

The tangible lessons they learned were around taking a vague idea and transforming the idea into a set of business requirements and a conceptual architecture. Then, they were able to add details by describing the lower-level artifacts covering information, security, data flow, software and infrastructure architectures, and the decision matrix that led to the selection of the technology stack they recommended.

Team Skyscraper also learned a number of intangible lessons. One of the key learnings was to remove pre-conceived notions and constraints and focus on the interaction between the business and the customer. When we first met, the team had already created a solution design. I suggested that designing a solution given requirements and constraints was limiting their ability to think about the business intent and not allowing them to think about the best solution. Once we considered the business problem, we were able to think through the technology dance that would best solve the problem. From there, the team was able to apply the information about requirements and constraints as they created the more detailed designs.

The team also (through demonstration) learned that having a strong network of experts to bounce ideas off of helped with creating the best solution. Each time we met, I introduced the team to other architects I know to discuss each step of the process and each of the artifacts they needed to create. As most of us know, EQ (emotional quotient) and network are as important as raw IQ (intelligence quotient). If I were a technology geek I might just suggest this is similar to scaling out rather than up. :)

With the success of this first event, the local IASA chapter is already planning the competition for next year. In addition, they are also collecting lessons learned so other IASA chapters can host their own competitions. Congratulations to Team Skyscraper and to the Puget Sound IASA chapter!    

Andy Ruth
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program


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